Summary: Rick, Carol and Daryl finally have the chance to deal with each other after being reunited, post-Terminus.
A/N: I did a new thing. I've never tried it before, but my feels demanded I write something. Sadly, angst is my status quo, so I apologize in advance.
This will be a 2 part story.
For im0rca and shipperwolf1
Stolen Ghost Waltz, Part 1: Rick
You're a ghost and you walk through the walls I've constructed
It's my house but it isn't my home
-Stolen Ghost Waltz by Karen Mann
He saw her, perched on the edge of a weathered picnic bench, watching the far off smoldering fires. He could just make out the inky black smudge of smoke against the darkening sky, the faint acrid tang of ash leaving a funny taste in his mouth. She was toying idly with her knuckle knife, turning it over and over in her hands while her fingers played along the sharp blade. Rick sighed as he approached her slowly, keeping his hands slightly extended as he grew closer, knowing she was watching him from the corner of her eye.
"Carol. Can I sit?"
She didn't say a word, just nodded at him, her fingers stilling on her knife. She was still as a statue, yet he still felt the nervous energy vibrating off of her in waves and the realization she was afraid of him tore at his heart. That wasn't what he wanted at all. He settled himself on the bench, keeping several inches between them.
He wasn't entirely sure if it was for him or for her.
He waited until she sighed and sheathed her knife, clasping her now empty hands together in front of her. That was better. He'd practiced this a hundred times in his head, since the second she'd appeared from between the trees like a wood nymph, leading the giant figure of Tyreese and toting his daughter, alive and safe, in her arms. Now though, the words refused to form on his tongue and his mouth gaped like a fish, open, close, open, close. He had no idea how long it took, second or long minutes, before she finally broke the awkward silence between them.
"Are you going to throw me away again?"
Instant denial churned up inside of him, hot and oily like bile, before getting stuck in his throat and he nearly gagged. Christ, when she put it like that… She was wrong about him… but she wasn't wrong, either. Instead of his practiced words, words he'd meant to reassure at the same time as he reestablished his authority, honesty won out.
"I don't know."
Incredibly, she smiled at him.
"That's something, I suppose." She pushed a lock of silver curls back off her forehead (when had her hair gotten so long?) and leaned back, propping herself up with her hands as she kept gazing as the thin blurred line of hot orange that peeked out over the tops of the trees in the distance. Terminus, still burning. What was left of it. "So what happens now?"
"I don't know that either."
He looked at her, really looked, for the first time in god knows how long. The last time he'd seen her had been veiled with his own shock and anger at her actions, at the stranger he'd presumed her to be. Rick focused, calling on the rusty skills of his long ago police training, She still wore that stranger's face, cool and confident, yet his instincts pulled at his core. Maybe, just maybe… Small, but there. A hint of the Carol he'd remembered and kept in his head.
"You talked to Ty?"
Ty. Rick cringed at the familiarity between Tyreese and Carol, something he hadn't anticipated. He'd told Rick everything that had happened with them, with the girls. Rick didn't think he'd had anything left in him to be surprised, but then that was Carol. Always surprising him lately.
"Yeah," he said softly.
She nodded her head slowly, giving him nothing more. He supposed there really wasn't anything he could say that would change anything about that particular horror.
"I see them." She kept her voice quiet and he wasn't sure if she was afraid of being overheard or simply afraid to give voice to whatever was inside her. He figured he was about to find out, either way and he leaned forward, bracing his arms on his knees and twisting himself on the bench so he could face her head on while she spoke, even while she continued to physically ignore him. "Every time I close my eyes, I see them." The girls or the people she'd killed? 'Euthanasia', Tyreese had said.
"Which ones?" Rick asked.
"All of them."
Tyreese had told Rick that he believed Carol carried the weight of her decisions on her shoulders, that it was tearing her apart inside. Until now, Rick hadn't believed him.
"I see Lori," Rick admitted. "I still see her. Not like I used to, but sometimes I look and she's there, just staring right at me."
"And?" She still wouldn't look at him.
It hurt so much, but he forced it out.
"Her face… is different." He was a terrible person, the hard truth of it filling him, breaking his bones and threatening to bury him under its weight. He couldn't remember the exact curve of Lori's face, memory dulling the bright color of her eyes and the shade of her hair, the mark of too much time fading his memory of her like a photograph left out in the sun.
"Blurred." She was smiling again, but it was filled with such sadness, a familiar sadness, that Rick felt the burn of tears fill his eyes. She knew. "So is Sophia's."
She knew and for the first time Rick remembered how much she'd lost, too. He'd used to be able to talk to Carol about these things, once upon a time.
"I shouldn't have said that to you," he said. His voice was thick and rough in his throat, the adrenaline of escape and the wear on his body giving him a hoarse rasp, thickening his Georgian drawl. "About Sophia, that day. I'm sorry."
There. He'd said the words, but he knew instantly from the stiffening of her body she wouldn't accept them.
His hackles rose and he spouted his defense quickly.
"I was thinking of you. I thought Tyreese would kill you if he found out."
Her hand twitched like it wanted to go for her knife.
"I didn't want you to hurt anyone else."
"Liar." So much tenderness, grief and anger in one word.
"Carol…" He had nothing, and he knew it.
We've all done the worst kinds of things just to stay alive.
"I tore a man's throat out." The words leapt out before he could stop them and it was the opening of a floodgate that he knew wouldn't close now. He finally had her full attention; she'd turned to him, fixing those blue eyes on him at last with her brows arched in surprise. "With my teeth… I did it to save Carl... Michonne… Daryl. They had Carl and he was… he was screaming. It was the only thing… With my teeth, Carol." He couldn't say anymore, that night and the nightmare that followed still too fresh in his head. She was crying now, watching him, silent tears streaking down her face and it was all he could do not to sob himself. She was there, the Carol he remembered. He saw it in her eyes and wondered how he'd missed it before.
But we can still come back. We're not too far gone.
Maybe, just maybe, they could come together again. Grow past this and be as they were before. She was family and he'd missed her.
When she finally spoke, her words ripped him in half.
"I miss Shane."
Rick stared at her, askance. Of all the things that he'd expected from his confession, it had never been that.
"Shane was… brash. Bold. Stupid," she said with a light laugh. There weren't words for the expression she was giving him. "But everyone knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that for Shane… Lori and Carl came first. Everyone else was expendable. I was expendable."
His cheeks were wet, the drip of tears into the thick hair of his beard making his chin itch. He didn't care.
"I was always expendable before. A burden. I knew that, with Shane. He'd never led me to believe I was anything else. I always knew exactly where I stood with him." The burn in her eyes went down to the very marrow of his soul. "Shane never called me 'sister', then threw me away."
They were broken, shattered, the rift between them too large to cross. He didn't agree with what she'd done, but he'd come to accept it under the burden of his own sins. Too little, too late. She didn't, couldn't, forgive him.
He couldn't blame her.
"Are you leaving?" he asked.
"I don't know."
It was too much like she'd died, except she was still here. Rick reached out, snatching up her hand in his. She let him, threading their fingers together.
"Do you think we can start over?"
"Do you want to?"
It should have been an easy answer, except it wasn't.
"I don't know."
He wanted to pull her into him, let her curl up against his side like she used to when they were friends, family. He wanted to run, to flee from the awful truth of things that lay between them, all broken promises and the ghosts of too many mistakes. He had the feeling she might stab him if he tried either one.
"So what do we do now?"
Carol squeezed his fingers in hers, turning her face back to the horizon.
"Let's just sit here a while. Okay?"
It was enough, for now. Rick turned to watch the fires glow brighter against the dark night, the smoke blotting out any stars overhead.
They stayed like that, together and alone all at once, until the first fingers of dawn crept into the sky.